Real Time Sound Processing


Through his work with various performing artists, Alexander MacSween has developed a particular approach to processing live sound. Using devices as simple as the most basic guitar effects pedals to more complex digital processors and computer software, he creates elaborate soundscapes and rich music from actors’ voices, dancers' feet and anything else that emits sound on stage.

In 2004, Alexander was approached by Pascal Keiser, then director of the CECN (n Mons, Belgium, with the idea of giving a workshop with the purpose of introducing the principles of live sound processing to interested artists and technicians. Since then the workshop has been presented twice a year at the CECN as well as at various other institutions, including the renowned Le Fresnoy in Lille, France, The Academy of the Impossible in Linz, Austria, Centre Oboro in Montreal, and it was adapted as a graduate student course for the Theatre Department of Towson University in Baltimore, USA.

The workshop is designed for professionals of various disciplines who wish to explore technological approaches to real time sound processing for the stage. ‘Real time sound processing’ refers to the electronic and/or digital treatment of sound as it happens in a live performance environment. The workshop is geared both toward artists who wish to improve their technical expertise, and to technicians who wish to explore a creative approach to sound processing.

Participants should ideally have some familiarity with the operation of a personal computer, though no previous experience with sound-related software or sound-processing equipment is necessary. Participants should have an advanced level of education in their particular discipline or be working at a professional level.

In its usual form, the workshop takes place over five days of seven or eight hours each. The first day or so takes the form of a lecture/presentation that follows the evolution of sound processing technology in various art forms and the simultaneous evolution of the related technology. Through audio and video excerpts, participants are acquainted with a range or artists and creative approaches relative to sound processing. This first part of the workshop concludes with a presentation of MacSween own work accompanied by an explanation of his technological and creative approach.

The second part of the workshop involves brief introduction to the sound application, Ableton Live, a principal tool in MacSween’s work. Participants then have a day in which to create a short sound piece from a recording of a short text using Live. In order to make the comparative results more interesting, participants are each given the same recording to manipulate.

The third and final part of the workshop consists of the creation of group projects of 10 to 15 minutes. After a brief introduction to the workings of a mixing board and basic sound processing devices, participants will spend the remaining days working in small teams to create a short sound performance based upon a text chosen by the group. Participants with projects already in development are encouraged to use these as material for the group work. Individuals with previous experience and their own tools (software or hardware) are invited to bring these if they wish. Each member of a group should have the opportunity to be involved in this process both technically and artistically.

The final day of the workshop concludes with a presentation of the group projects and a discussion of the discoveries and problems encountered therein.

Logistically, the two parts of this workshop may be presented in a classroom or any space equipped with tables and chairs and the necessary computer and audio-visual equipment. The last three days require separate spaces for each group. (Normally there are no more than two or three groups.) These spaces should be no smaller that 250 ft. sq. (24 m sq.) The spaces must be such that loud sounds can me made in them without causing a disturbance to neighbouring areas.

This workshop may be given as a term-length course over a longer time period, or presented in a shortened form as a lecture/demonstration, without the practical, participatory aspect.

For more information, including cost and technical requirements, please contact Alexander MacSween.

CECN workshop at The Art Zoyd studios, October 2009

Photos by David Bardoux